The Best Italian Wine for your Palate and Your Wallet
Italian cuisine is one of our favorites. We tend to cook some of the classics at home, and when choosing a restaurant, an Italian trattoria is always a safe bet with the kids. Lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs and the exotic-sounding panzanella salad--we've got those recipes down pat. What we don't have in spades, we recently realized, is an in-depth understanding of Italian wines. It's a shame, considering that as of 2008, Italy is the world's largest producer of wine.
Perhaps we've mistakenly assumed that the best Italian wines aren't budget-friendly. That kind of hasty judgment has us missing out on some terrific juice. As Kevin Zraly points out in his very accessible wine book, Windows on the World: "Italian wines are good for any occasion--from quaffing to serious tasting."
For our purposes, let's forget for a moment about all the bank-breaking bottles hailing from Italy and pay attention to some of the country's other 2000 wine labels.
We love what Eric Asimov, the Times wine writer, has to say about drinking adventurously with respect to your pocketbook: "a $20 bottle from the old reliable Mâconnais may bring you a pretty good expression of chardonnay. But that same $20 may also bring you one of the best possible expressions of vespaiolo, a white grape from the Veneto in northeastern Italy that, for now at least, has all the cachet of an old sock."
Italy isn't just about pricey Barolos and Amarones. While there's plenty of good sipping to be had at the luxurious level, there's also a ton of options as far as the lesser-known varietals are concerned.
Soave, Gavi and Falenghina are all examples of delicious Italian choices, most of which you'll find priced under the appealing twenty buck price mark at your local wine store.
On the red side, Sicilian wines are coming up big everywhere and are, according to Asimov "worth the hunt." The wine guru attributes this rising popularity to Americans' shift in taste from "heavy wines of power to lighter wines of greater finesse." Because Sicilian wines tend to be recognized in part for their compelling acidity, "particularly those producers around Mount Etna on the eastern part of the island and those around the town of Vittoria to the southeast," they're enjoyed by U.S. wine drinkers for just that reason: The best Italian wines need not be appreciated only with food as so many of those aged and extremely tannic Barbarescos are. Besides, Asimov says, "These wines are rightly reserved for occasions that warrant them," and suggests Dolcetto, a varietal also from the Langhe region, same as his big brother.
The next time you're shopping for wine in your local wine shop, ask after either a Barbera or a Dolcetto. Finding a high-quality bottle at an attractive price shouldn't be too difficult.
When you're out to dinner, don't let the long list of Italian wines start freaking you out. Just remember to keep in mind the helpful tips in the slideshow above.
By Stacey Gawronski